Bake sale investigations

Brianna Denison’s face has been plastered on many a blinking casino billboard, workplace bulletin board and signs stuck in neighborhood lawns, with the hope that someone might be able to bring the missing 19-year-old back. So it’s no surprise to see an ad to “Bring Bri Back!” in our own publication.

What’s curious about the half-page ad, published in the Feb. 7 issue of the RN&R, and other stories produced in the Reno Gazette-Journal, is the appeal to the community to donate to the Washoe County Honorary Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The crime scene produced DNA evidence that could potentially lead to Denison’s captor, but neither that captor nor Denison has been found. It seems the county sheriff’s department was short $135,000 to analyze some 3,000 samples of DNA from known offenders that could potentially link to Denison’s abductor. The donations would enable them to do that. Due to the immense community support for this case, nearly $100,000 was pledged by Feb. 6, before the ad even hit newsstands, according to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department.

But the very need for the sheriff’s department to appeal to the community for donations to do its job and find the person who snatched a young woman asleep on a couch speaks to a larger issue.

The 2007 Nevada Legislature blithely enacted a measure, Assembly Bill 92, that expanded a list of offenders who must submit to genetic marker tests, a measure that took effect Oct. 1. The lawmakers did not enclose a check to the counties with this enactment or offer any hint of where the money should come from. Legislators left the details to local governments which operate under tax caps imposed by (naturally) the legislature.

The sheriff’s department can do only what our tax dollars support. When it needs more money, the community is often wary to vote for a tax raise, especially these days, with taxes due in two months and the economy tanking. But when a woman is abducted on a college campus, we all ask, “Why can’t you find this criminal?”

This earmarked fundraising sets a scene where only those who have enough money or enough community support for their case get those cases solved. Granted, the DNA analysis will, we hope, help solve a number of cases in the Reno area and elsewhere. But the sheriff’s department shouldn’t have to be placed in a situation where it’s “hired” by individual interests. What does that mean for the lower-profile cases of missing persons—missing drug addicts, prostitutes, the homeless and mentally ill? Do their cases sink to the bottom of a file while the prettier, better educated, more loved people rise to the top?

We want all of these people to be found, and we want Brianna Denison to return to her family. So by all means, donate to the sheriff’s department or the Bring Bri Back Foundation so they can continue their work with flyers and posters (P.O. Box 10892, Reno, NV 89510; or donate at any Wells Fargo Bank). But when it comes time to vote on public safety issues, we hope you’ll remember Brianna Denison and other missing persons so the sheriff’s department won’t have to hold the equivalent of a bake sale to do its job.